This is Acting by Sia
Sia is no stranger to the music scene. Having written chart-toppers from Rihanna’s “Diamonds” to Beyonce’s “Pretty Hurts” to three songs in the movie adaptation of the musical “Annie,” the Australian singer-songwriter has proved that penning lyrics is no daunting challenge for her, regardless of the style of music. And she certainly succeeds with the electropop genre of her newest album, “This is Acting.”
It is Sia’s seventh album, and one of the most iconic things about it is the way Sia deliberately hides from the public eye. Even during performances on “Ellen” and interviews with “Nightline,” Sia hid behind the long, straight bangs of a wig, which confused audiences. But the reason why she prefers the obscurity of a wig is actually quite simple and probably unfamiliar to many other stars of today: avoiding the spotlight. When asked about it, Sia confessed, “[The spotlight’s] ugly, it makes me feel hunted.”
Sia’s choice to avoid the spotlight appeals, as it shows that she is down-to-earth and relatable. And that’s exactly what she puts on show in “This is Acting.”
The album’s concept is completely unique, as it is a compilation of rejected songs she wrote for other artists. She did not write the songs with herself in mind, with the exception of one, so she never had to worry about if it was something she would say. This is the foundation of her album title; she must act out the stories that came along with the songs. Regardless, Sia sings with such passion and emotion, it is impossible to categorize her as anything other than bona fide.
The twelve-track album opens with “Bird Set Free.” Sia’s voice is absolutely gorgeous, complemented with a catchy beat provided by drums. In typical Sia fashion, the lyrics are thoughtful and charged with emotion and evocative metaphors. She confesses in the song, “There’s a scream inside that we all try to hide/…Oh, it eats us alive.” The song is relatable, for sure, but there is so much more depth that lies beneath the surface.
Though the song was originally written for Adele, it is clear that Sia introduced some of her own feelings and experiences into the lyrics. She struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, as well as bipolar disorder. She even attempted suicide in 2010. However, she got sober and clean, and has been ever since. Understanding the personal hardships she faced in the years leading up to her fame makes the song that much more powerful, especially the lines, “I don’t wanna die.” This song is the perfect display of her character development, and it is utterly beautiful. Amongst all the recent pop songs about courage and finding oneself (think “Roar” and “Fight Song”), this one is the most lyrically and vocally heartfelt.
The next track, “Alive,” is clearly the highlight of the album. Also written for Adele, Sia showcases the same level of fiery emotion and intensity the British powerhouse would have. The song starts soft with piano, but quickly changes to a midtempo melody. At times during the high notes, Sia’s voice wears just a tad thin, but it serves a good purpose. It adds a sense of realism, as well as amplifies the song’s raw beauty and power.
“Reaper” is undoubtedly my personal favorite. Sia sings, “So come back when I’m good and old/I got drinks to drink and men to hold/I got good things to do with my life.” It fits in flawlessly on an album that extols the individual overcoming negativity to realize all the voids inside her are actually cosmos. The minimal, steady beat is a plus, as it allows the listeners to focus on Sia’s incredible vocals.
One track that must be noted is “One Million Bullets.” It is unique on the album because it is the only song Sia wrote without another artist in mind. Her strong, soaring voice is the dominant element in all of her songs, and it is undeniable in this one. The song starts soft with a lulling beat, but it gradually fades to emphasize Sia’s voice. It perfectly demonstrates the internal conflict of what feels right in the moment and what feels right in the end. Given, the chorus is perhaps the most cliche of all cliches (“I’d take one million bullets”), but there is so much passion, your heart aches along with hers.
Unfortunately, tracks like “Move Your Body” and “Sweet Design” bring the album down. These songs definitely should have stayed rejected. Originally written for I-wanna-have-fun gals like Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, the suggestive, bold lyrics and fast beat do not work in Sia’s favor. Her voice is much more suited for soulful ballads, not ditzy, absentminded dance songs. However, these are simply feel-good tunes, perfect for the club or a lonely Friday night.
One of the greatest things about “This is Acting” is the fact that none of the songs are reminiscent of the typical mainstream pop song we are all so accustomed to and tired of. Sia assures listeners that she struggles through the same things we do. She does not dwell in the topics that countless other artists of our time wallow endlessly on: love and sex. Her challenges are humble and ones that everyone can relate to – finding bravery and the good things in life to live for.
The album includes just the right amount of diversity, brilliant enough to satisfy even the most fervent of poets with “House on Fire” and “Broken Glass,” while still including laid-back, upbeat tracks like “Cheap Thrills” for dance queens. But sometimes, the range of emotions Sia showcases is puzzling, especially when they don’t fit well together. She has a large number of songs about self-realization so the additions of “Move Your Body” and “Sweet Design” leave the audience confounded about what the true theme of her album is. These dance songs feel out of place, thrown into the mix simply to make the track list longer. They stand out on an album that focuses primarily on soul-searching.
But Sia thoroughly dazzles, showing she can be both galvanic and tender. “This is Acting” is a phenomenal celebration of finding oneself amid the settling dust of defeated adversity. Sia takes her listeners on a journey of her self-healing, and it is too awe-inspiring and honest to be forgotten.